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Reintegrated Taliban fighters allowed to join local police units

By KEVIN BARON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 4, 2011

ARLINGTON, Va. — Surrendering Afghan Taliban fighters are being welcomed into newly created local police units in their home areas, coalition commanders in the north revealed Tuesday.

Turning enemy fighters into trusted, trained and armed policemen is a new development for the Afghan Local Police program, a key component of Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy.

Until now, the ALP was billed as a way to organize informal tribal militias and warlords into better trained, equipped and disciplined police units loyal to the Afghan government. The plan has been compared to the Sons of Iraq effort of 2007. In Afghanistan, Petraeus launched the program in July, shortly after taking command, and reportedly wants to enroll more than 20,000 Afghans nationwide.

The ALP is now part of Hamid Karzai’s reintegration program, German Maj. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz, commanding general of Regional Command-North, said on Tuesday.

“The people are war tired,” Fritz said, speaking to Pentagon reporters via satellite.

Bands of Taliban foot soldiers are returning to their villages and seeking reintegration — often more than a dozen at a time, he said.

“In the medium- and long-term, I think this is exactly what we need,” Fritz said. “If the foot soldiers are leaving the Taliban leaders, who can the Taliban fight with?”

Insurgents, mostly low- or medium-level fighters, seeking reintegration can lay down their arms, swear allegiance to the government, and enter into the program offering vocational training and a paycheck of $88 per week. Fewer than 800 fighters have signed up for reintegration so far, according to NATO’s program commander British Maj. Gen. Phil Jones, Wired.com’s Danger Room blog reported Tuesday.

In RC-North, Col. Sean Mulholland, Fritz’s deputy, said 540 fighters have formally reintegrated. Some of those deemed not to be dangerous have been approved to join the local police foces, though Mulholland couldn’t say how many.

“I couldn’t begin to take a guess,” Mulholland said. “I’m sure there are some [ex-Taliban]. And some of our vetting processes have ensured that some of the people who are trying to get in that are Taliban, that they are not allowed. ... So I would say the percentage is very, very low due to the stringent vetting process.”

Two of nine planned ALP sites in RC-North are operating. One has enrolled 120 out of 225 available slots so far, and the other will reach 200 people by Wednesday, he said.

Local police and the provincial chief of police make sure local family members, neighbors and elders vouch for the ex-fighters, confirm they are from the area and are willing to participate in the reintegration program. Ex-fighters must seek forgiveness from their villages and are only kept in areas where locals already know them well.

“They are not moved around from city to city,” Mulholland said.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

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